Science & Technology

These Tattoos Are Made with the DNA of Loved Ones

Have you ever seen somebody with a "Mom" tattoo? Well, if they got it pretty recently, it might have been more than a tattoo. You might have actually been looking at that person's mother — or at least, her DNA. Thanks to a new technology called Everence, you can now carry your loved ones with you forever.

DNA Is Forever

The idea of Everence came to Patrick Duffy while he was running a therapeutic scuba diving group for veterans. He noticed one of the participants had a tattoo on her leg in memory of her late husband, and he thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to turn that tattoo into a reliquary?"

In other words, what if the tattoo to remember her husband actually contained a piece of him in some way? He shared this thought with retired Navy SEAL Boyd Renner and the two immediately sprang into action. Armed with nothing more than this idea — they didn't have any experience with tattoos or bio-engineering — they assembled a team of artists, geneticists, and technologists to make it possible.

In a nutshell, Everence is a powder made up of microscopic capsules, each containing DNA samples from a subject of choice. The capsules themselves are made of PMMA (better known as plexiglass), which preserves the organic samples and prevents them from disappearing into the body. PMMA has proven itself safe — it's also used in dentures, bone cement, and the dermal fillers used in cosmetic surgery. In any case, you can send in just a few thousand cells from a cheek swab or cremated ashes and have them transformed into this transparent substance.

Mix these minuscule beads into tattoo ink, and the person (or pet) will be permanently enshrined in a work of art that you'll carry with you forever. Since the beads are clear, they don't interfere with the ink's coloration. The substance also abides by FDA regulations for cosmetics.

In Memoriam

Tattoo artist Virginia Elwood joined the business venture as well, and she also became one of the first people to receive an Everence tattoo. She and her partner got matching tattoos incorporating each others' DNA, proving what a beautiful bonding experience these pieces can be. But your beloved doesn't even have to be living to achieve that bond. If you have cremated remains, it's possible to memorialize the ones you've lost even if they died long before this technology was developed.

Incorporating the remains of a loved one into a tattoo commemorating them isn't itself new. It's long been known as "morbid ink," and it's generally been more of an underground subculture than an FDA-sanctioned process. But Everence has another advantage besides official approval. It will last immeasurably longer than untreated remains.

People have been getting tattoos for thousands of years and for thousands of reasons. Pick up "The Tattoo History Source Book" for a lavishly illustrated compendium of tattoos through the years. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas April 6, 2018

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